Small Business Strategies: Tasks to keep off your to-do list

10 Feb

That’s a great way to keep track of the tasks you must do to keep your small business going. But what about the things you better NOT do if you want to succeed?

How can you make sure you’re not sinking your ship by doing the wrong things?
Perhaps it’s time you create your Not To Do list. Here’s your list of 11 things to stop doing in your small business, so don’t:
•Be indecisive. Being wishy-washy costs money and time.
Your small company needs leadership, and face it, you’re the leader. Yes, you may have a collaborative work culture, but the business still needs someone at the head, making final decisions and making sure they are executed consistently.
I’m not saying rush to foolish decisions, but at some point, make a choice and stick with it.
•Be right all the time. You’re not, so don’t act like it.
Neglect the important for the urgent. Your day can easily get eaten up putting out fires — responding to items that need to be done immediately.
You can get interrupted by every email, phone call, text and tweet. Are these the things that grow your company? Make time to attend to those.
•Get bored with your core business. Most companies have one or two products or services bringing a fairly steady income stream.
You could sell them in your sleep. In fact, they put you to sleep. They’re no longer challenging.
But neglecting your core business just because you’re bored can be deadly.
•Get distracted by too many ideas. Two types of entrepreneurs are doomed to failure: one who gets stuck in a rut, the other who goes all over the road.
Neither reaches the destination successfully.
One way to deal with too many good ideas is to create a business plan, review it and revise it annually. Between plans, write down ideas — we put them in a red notebook, called our “redbook” to be reviewed at your next planning session.
•Criticize your employees. Want unmotivated employees who take no initiative and watch the clock?
Then keep criticizing and belittling the people you work with.
They’ll respond to your criticism by taking the safe route, doing as little as possible. All of us thrive on praise, gratitude, training, and a chance to have our ideas valued.
•Ignore current customers when marketing. It’s exciting to find new customers. It’s profitable to retain current ones.
Stay in touch with past and current customers continually.
•Put too much faith in social-media marketing. Social media is the rage right now, and businesses rightly want on this new communication bandwagon.
But for most small businesses (not all, of course), even if you greatly increase the number of people who like you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter and connect with you on LinkedIn, you won’t see a measurable uptick in sales.
•Put no effort in social-media marketing. Don’t swing the pendulum entirely the other way and ignore these new communication channels.
Customers, especially prospective customers, want to see you there, just as they want to see a website. It adds credibility. And social media is an inexpensive way to stay in front of customers.
Just don’t spend all day there.
•Shop entirely online or from big-box stores. Small businesses should be the first ones to help support other small and local businesses.
I’m not saying do all your shopping there, but don’t buy everything online. Sure, you may save a few bucks, but you’ll be undermining the local community that supports you.
•Let things slide. Don’t let another year go by without taking care of something critical for your business — perhaps it’s a new accounting program, health insurance, establishing a line of credit.
For me and my business, it’s redoing our website.
Address something that’s fallen off your to-do list for too long.


Small Business Today: Taking time to celebrate wins motivates everyone

30 Jan

Like a lot of people, the parents of our kids’ friends have become our friends. I am not sure why that happens, but in the long run I am glad it does.

For example we have become friends with a lot of the people who our boys have played basketball with over the years.

Through AAU basketball, we have met people not just from the Des Moines area, but all around the state. Even though the kids do not play on the same team during the school seasons, I have kept in touch with several dads via email.

Last week I was involved in one of those email conversations with a dad. We were discussing our boys’ latest high school games and the season overall. It was a tale of two different seasons. As I write this, Ankeny is undefeated and ranked second in the state. The other team is not doing quite as well and currently has more losses than wins.

We share our frustrations and what we would like to see happen differently on each of our respective teams. Of course neither of us would ever say anything to our coaches or for that matter to our sons, it is not our place. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic.

For example, I expect Ted and Ben to make almost every shot they take, which is impossible. I would really like the teams to be winning by 30 by halftime, and the student sections to go crazy with every basket. My friend would like to see a more consistent rotation of players on the floor and for his son to take more shots per game.

Somehow we got on the subject of whether we would be happier if our boys played on the same team, or if they switched teams.

Wouldn’t his son want to be on a team that was undefeated and considered one of the best in the state? The resounding answer was no. The grass might look greener on the other side, but is it really?

As small business owners and managers, we have difficult jobs. The pressures to make more sales, bring in more customers and bring higher profits with fewer resources can sometimes be overwhelming. When was the last time you stopped and enjoyed the fact that you won a new customer, made a nice profit or kept your employees happy? Sometimes as managers we do not take the time to appreciate the fruits of our labor.

It is important to stop and enjoy the victories, because that is what motivates us to do more, to do even better next time. Unfortunately we can’t dwell too long on what we did well, because we do live in a “what have you done for me lately” society. Celebrate with those who helped you on the journey, because they will help you again.

I am sure that my email conversations will continue the rest of the basketball season, regardless of the final outcome, and probably continue throughout the AAU season. And in those conversations, I am going to try and celebrate the victories a little longer and forget the losses a little faster.

Risky Ideas Turn Into Smart Businesses When Your Values Are Clear

25 Jan

The advent of new technologies often begets the decline of established crafts. But sometimes, to quote the cliché, when innovation closes one door, it opens another. When we started DodoCase–which makes iPad cases using bookbinding techniques–on paper we were doing lots of things “wrong.”

We had decided to manufacture our products in one of the most expensive cities in the world using techniques that were hundreds of years old. We operated without an office, meaning we had no permanent production facility, and we had just a small core team. No one had seen the iPad at this point, so we designed a case for a product we’d never laid eyes on or used. As it turns out, each of these seemingly questionable, and certainly not advisable, decisions turned out to be keys in building a profitable business that encourages sustainable products and creates local jobs.


San Francisco was home to a dwindling bookbinding industry that was eager to find new ways to remain relevant, as well as a vibrant woodworking community. This gave us access to a pool of talented local artisans to work with our product concept and execution. Once we had these relationships in place and a prototype in hand, we elected to go live with our simple e-commerce site before we had ever physically held an iPad. We had a feeling that people would appreciate a quality product that was locally built, as well as one that supported the adaptation of ancient techniques. The choice to employ local artisans wasn’t just a move we made to be “good,” but a valuable investment because the connection between consumer and craftsman quickly became a large component of our identity.


In general, but especially because we were launching a case for an iPad that had never been seen, transparency in our processes, timelines, and purpose was essential. Social media proved to be an amazing vehicle to accomplish this goal, and we freely tweeted and Facebooked about who we were as craftsmen, and how we were progressing in our production. Having customers understand from us personally that these cases were being built for them, by hand, and by local craftspeople was crucial to them tolerating the wait. We would never go so far as to say our customers “liked” waiting in those early months, but surprisingly, the scarcity of the product proved to translate into an important marketing vehicle for us. Customers tended to post when they finally received their DodoCase. Because everyone shared their anticipation and excitement upon receiving their cases, including us, we built an active community between our company and our customers.


The mission of our business, then and now, is encouraging consumers to consider their purchases carefully. Our message had to ring clear: We preserve the art of bookbinding, create jobs in San Francisco, and make a product that people feel emotionally connected to. We are able to breathe freely, and act with total transparency simply because we have nothing to hide. As it turns out, people gravitate toward honesty, even (and maybe especially) if you are doing things “wrong” on paper. Today we have a full-fledged bookbindery, woodshop, and office space in San Francisco. We continue to work with the local businesses and craftsmen to incorporate new book binding techniques into our products. We’ve collaborated with local artists including Rex Rayand Jenny Beorkrem of Ork Posters notoriety, as well as large specialty brands such as J.Crew.

Risky ideas can turn into smart businesses when core values and goals remain clear. As people adopt new technologies and are bombarded by mass-produced goods, they’ll increasingly search for emotional connection and individualization. The businesses who can tap into this with a clear and honest message will prosper, and maybe change manufacturing for the better.

This Week in Small Business: Gross National Happiness

23 Jan

What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

The Economy: Obama Rejects Keystone

President Obama’s jobs panel urges a broadened tax base and more oil drilling. But he rejects the Keystone pipeline and instead wishes Betty White a happy birthday. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says oil prices will stay high. Andrew Sullivan says President Obama will outsmart all his critics, and Mitt Romney gives him a little help. Cullen Roche is not seeing a lot of inflation in our future. All six recovery indicators are positive for the first time since May 2011. Ed Yardeni says a strong recovery is coming. Mark Thoma explains how the Federal Reserve can prevent the next financial crisis. The Chamber of Commerce says uncertainty continues to be the biggest challenge for small businesses. Kodak files for bankruptcy.

The Data: A Good Week for Builders

Builder confidence rises for the fourth consecutive month, and the American Institute of Architects billing index is positive for the second straight month. But the residential remodeling index and housing starts (pdf) both decline. Industrial production (pdf) increases while producer prices ease. Mark Perry reports that auto plants are at capacity and the revenues of our top 500 manufacturing firms almost equal the gross domestic product of Japan (not that anyone can trust G.D.P. numbers any more). Steve Hamm suggests measuring Gross National Happiness.

The Big Story: SOPA Backlash

A bunch of major Web sites protest the SOPA/PIPA legislation. Both Sally Cohn and this video explain what’s going on. This issue is so serious that even Mark Zuckerberg is tweeting about it. Two of the bill’s sponsors back out and the Internet community cheers. But another sponsor calls the protests a publicity stunt. The White House does not support either bill. Pippa is upset, too.

Around the Country: New York Stories

As manufacturing activity (pdf) in the region expands, New York City’s Transit Workers Union extends its Rate-My-Rat contest. A store in Chelsea is the spot to watch in 2012, and here’s how one of New York’s hottest co-working spaces started. The story of this 92-year-old family-run manufacturer in Queens offers hope. A new law allows wineries to ship directly to New Jersey homes. Target plans to sell goods from small-business boutiques.

Around the World: China Is Not a Threat

These countries are the economic winners and losers since 2007. Iceland is recovering from its meltdown. Former President Bill Clinton says that economic success is tied to global collaboration. His wife says, “Get me a ladder!” A breakthrough is saving lives in rural Africa. A small tech business in Pakistan tries to succeed. Google apologizes to a Kenyan start-up for its “dirty” business tactics. Britain’s oldest shopkeeper retires. World manufacturing eyes its next growth market: Iraq. More than half of China’s people now live in cities — and they get around on the world’s largest bus. With the Chinese economy slowing more than expected, Connor Sen explains why the country poses no long-term military threat to the United States: “It’s hard to imagine China sending millions of young men off to die in battle when the country will be starved for young labor within a decade.”

Ideas: Doctors Are Making Rookie Mistakes

A new small-business deal site and a new remix for Fresh Prince fans were both introduced last week. When it comes to running their own businesses, doctors are making rookie mistakes. Forget wedding planners — how about starting up a marriage proposal business? Elaine Rogers offers a self-care manual and reminds us that business owners who enjoy relaxation outside of their businesses are more likely to be productive and engaged at work. Teenagers get a chance to show they are entrepreneurs. The BBC predicts what life will be like 100 years from now. A college basketball player shows how to hit a full-court shot, and a lazy Jedi eats breakfast.

Marketing: Trust Me. I’m a Salesman!

Industry Market Trends recommends 26 trade shows to visit this year. Kelly Clay explains how to create a one-page Web site. Sam Boush offers an introduction to B2C marketing automation. Here’s how Toshiba uses social media to make products its customers really want. René Shimada Siegel explains how to write a thank-you note that matters: “When the sender is a busy executive, handwritten notes are so remarkable that they easily earn awe and admiration.” Do you know why brands like Puma and General Electric are flocking to Instagram? Frank Belzer asks, can you sell like the “Iron Lady?” Steve Reeves says, “Trust me, I’m a salesman!” Alex Salkever says mobile advertising might really rock at the shopping mall. Wendy Kenney lists 30 ways to make your business stand out.

Start-Up: SXSW for Only $217

Women 2.0 unveils the finalists for its start-up competition. Johnson & Johnson says there are no strings attached to its San Diego biotech start-up center. Here’s how to introduce your start-up at SXSW for only $217. Robert Scoble explains why he loves PandoDaily, a new media company focused on start-ups. As Jessica Alba adds entrepreneur to her credits, a bunch of other celebrities say hello. A Mississippi sports radio start-up is booming.

Your People: Call Your Mom

Do your employees consider their jobs to be among the most stressful in America? Well, just tell them to call but not to text their mothers. Rich Mogull explains how to monitor employees without going too far: “Investigators and managers shouldn’t be allowed to track everything an employee is doing and peek in whenever they want. This is where you open yourself up to legal risk or make your employees feel like they are living in a bad reality TV show.” Rohit Bhargava offers three ways to inspire employees using social media — including: “There are plenty of organizations and meet-up-style events that are promoted through social media. Offer an incentive to employees to attend those events. It can be a great way for them to learn something and make new connections.” Workers agree that having a wellness program encourages them to work harder and perform better.

Boss of the Week: Cliff Wilson

Learning that a potential buyer would close down his manufacturing plant, this retiring 76-year-old business owner turned down the offer and instead sold his company to his employees. Eight years later, the company is fully employee-owned and thriving.

Finance: Raising Fees Creatively

As some A.T.M. owners find new and more creative ways to raise their fees, a small California bank expands its business lending staff. A new service from enables banks to offer business customers online accounts-payable and accounts-receivable services. A solar start-up raises $41 million. David Beisel says you know a venture capitalist is serious when he or she visits your office. A subscription service that produces and delivers hands-on activity boxes for children raises $5 million.

Technology: Windows XP Still Rules

While tablet adoption rises in the corporate world, Windows XP (not Windows 7) still rules the business desktop. Zappos says its customer database was hacked. I.B.M. announces new cloud services for social networking and collaboration. A mobile payments provider, BilltoMobile, unveils a new one-click mobile Web transaction process for making purchases with a wireless device. Lisa Braithwaite gives great advice for speaking on Skype including: “Remember: people can see you.”

The Week’s Bests

Things to Avoid When Raising Capital. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan warns about liquidation preferences: “The liquidation preference determines how the pie is shared in a liquidity event (M&A, I.P.O.). In a fair situation: investors get their money back before anyone else does, even though the risk-and-return trade-off would require that everyone wins or loses together. But with leverage a venture capitalist will be able to land a 1x liquidation preference; which is standard. If they ask for anything more than that, tell them to take a hike; you’ll never see a return.”

Way to Be Disciplined. Brett and Kate McKay offer suggestions for strengthening (and conserving) willpower, including: “Look for ways to monitor, gather data, and ‘quantify’ your life. Keep a food diary of what you eat each day. Weigh yourself every morning (while you may have heard weight loss gurus tell you this is a bad idea, studies have shown that those who weigh themselves daily are more successful at shedding the pounds). Use Web sites like to keep track of your finances, and apps that track how you spend your time online. And so on. The more clear reminders you have of both your progress and your backsliding, the more likely it is you’ll stay on track.

Justification for Buying a Kindle. Anne Kreamer offers the business case for reading novels: To bring the subject home, think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — co-workers, clients, passing strangers, store clerks. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction. It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience.”

This Week’s Question: Do you read fiction? Have any novels been meaningful to the running of your business?

Over 70 Percent of Small Business Owners Predict a Healthier 2012, Attributing an Advisory Board to Success

19 Jan

DENVER, Jan 19, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Seventy one percent of small business owners, specifically those polled who are part of an advisory board, are predicting an increase of up to 10 percent in profits over the next 12 months. The Alternative Board(R) (TAB), an organization that provides advisory boards and coaching services for business owners, CEOs and presidents worldwide, released today the results of a national survey conducted in December 2011 by a research firm that partners with Fortune 500 companies.

According to the TAB 2011 Small Business Owners survey, 60 percent of small business owners who were part of TAB, reported an increase in profits in 2011. Of those surveyed, 55 percent of owners who are members of advisory boards feel that the most valuable resource to their business for overcoming challenges is their board of business experts.

“Small business owners face many difficult decisions during these turbulent economic times and they’re seeing the value in discussing these challenges with other CEOs who have been through this before,” stated Jason Zickerman, President and CEO of The Alternative Board. “Let’s face it, owning a business is tough enough and by providing entrepreneurs an advisory board such as TAB, the research shows that we’re giving them a strategic advantage for success.”

Other survey findings include:

— When it comes to the threat of small businesses in the U.S., the three major factors felt by owners are: — Sluggish Demand

— Government Regulations

— Availability of Capital

— Over half of small business owners report that their business improved from 2010 to 2011.

— More than 70 percent of non-TAB members believe they would increase profits up to 10 percent if they joined an advisory board.

— Nearly 60 percent of U.S. business owners believe a sales and marketing strategy would help them most as business owners in 2012.

Survey results overall support the benefits of belonging to an alternative board of directors by strengthening confidence in community, making smart business decisions and growing profits. Specifically:

— 67 percent of TAB members trust their advisory board most to provide overall business advice.

— 92 percent of current board members support the argument that they can learn from decisions in different industries, through their advisory board, in order to make better business decisions.

— Among those surveyed, 60 percent who reported an increase in profits during 2011 belonged to an alternative board of directors.

Survey results also show that when it comes to an advisory board, owners find honest feedback, actionable ideas, and a fresh perspective to be the most valuable assets.

TAB conducted this survey with hundreds of small-to-medium-sized business owners (including 50 percent of those who are TAB members and 50 percent of those who are not members) to seek insight into the outlook of 2012’s small business predictions and trends.

About The Alternative Board

The Alternative Board (TAB) is an exclusive, membership-based organization that helps business owners achieve profitability, productivity, and personal fulfillment through the use of peer advisory boards and private business coaching. Through a platform of knowledge and guidance, The Alternative Board delivers real world advice that provides a result driven advantage to help business owners stay focused on what matters most. Headquartered in Denver, CO, The Alternative Board has been helping business owners succeed for over 20 years. For more information, visit and .

SymAction Communications, a national research firm serving Fortune 500’s and mid-size companies, as well as various nonprofits and trade associations, conducted the research.

SOURCE: The Alternative Board

What small business owners can expect from 2012

18 Jan

By mid-January, resolutions have been broken, the sheen of the new year has worn off and the holiday season becomes a distant memory once the all-too-familiar daily grind sets in. It’s easy to forget that 2012 has barely begun, but the fact is, there are still more than 11 months left of the year that are ripe with possibilities.

In a recent article for MSN’s Business on Main, small business and entrepreneurship specialist Steve Strauss examined what 2012 likely has in store for small enterprises.

First, the economy may be looking up for the first time in a while, with 2011 ending on a positive note. Thanks in part to the demand for seasonal workers, unemployment fell below 9 percent, and consumers opened their wallets to buy holiday gifts after a long period of general austerity.

Small business owners were feeling optimistic too, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). In December, NFIB observed a 1.8 point rise in optimism in the sector for the second consecutive month, while reports of positive earnings trends were 6 points better.

Additionally, 2012 is set to be a banner year for mobile, as the percentage of online searches conducted from smartphones continues to rise. Given the increasing popularity of the channel, it’s important for small business owners to ensure their company’s website is compatible with mobile, and perhaps even consider mobile business marketing campaigns.

Election coverage has been almost impossible to ignore in recent weeks, with the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary both occurring earlier this month. There’s likely to be continued debate about how to cultivate small business growth in the country ahead of the general election in November.

Audio Jack Card Reader for BlackBerry® Smartphones to Compete with Apple iPhone(TM) for Mobile Payment Acceptance

17 Jan

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J., Jan. 17, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — CHARGE Anywhere®, a leading provider of award-winning, secure mobile payment and payment gateway solutions, announced today the compatibility of an Audio Jack Magnetic Card Reader with CHARGE Anywhere®’s Mobile Payment Application for BlackBerry® .

Compatibility of the Audio Jack Card Reader with CHARGE Anywhere®’s award-winning Mobile Payment Application for BlackBerry® and the PCI DSS Level 1 payment gateway, ComsGate®, provides BlackBerry® device owners with the most cost-effective solution to swipe credit cards anywhere, anytime.

“Providing low cost solutions that enable businesses to accept secure card payments anywhere, anytime on a BlackBerry® phone is critical to enterprise and SMB clients looking to expand services on the proven security of their BlackBerry® devices,” said Paul Sabella, CEO of CHARGE Anywhere. “With the CHARGE Anywhere® Mobile Payment Application for BlackBerry®, businesses can take advantage of our PCI security, end to end encryption and device management services while effortlessly turning their Sprint, AT&T or Verizon Wireless BlackBerry® phone into a secure, mobile point-of-sale terminal.”

CHARGE Anywhere®’s distinct mobile point-of-sale solution for BlackBerry® allow users to securely process payments in real-time, reducing risk and decreasing the scope of PCI-DSS. The exclusive solution permits users to capture and export mission critical business data such as signature capture, invoice number, employee number, tips, GPS location and more.

About CHARGE Anywhere: CHARGE Anywhere is the developer of proprietary Payment Card Industry PA-DSS certified CHARGE Anywhere® v2.0.0 Mobile Payment/POS software solution designed for QuickBooks®, Smartphones and POS Terminals, e-commerce, Web terminal and the PCI DSS Level 1 compliant ComsGate® Payment Gateway. For more information contact them at , or (800) 211-1256 x150.

©2012 CHARGE Anywhere. All trademarks, service marks, and trade names referenced in this material are the property of their respective owners. Prices and terms subject to change without notice. Please verify with CHARGE Anywhere, LLC.


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